A remake-cum-reimagining of the classic 1968-1980 series, Hawaii Five-0 (2010-present) is fairly good in some ways while in other respects oblivious to what made the original series so memorable in the first place. Overall it's disappointing but not without interest, and there's room for the show to improve over time.
Exemplifying the absurdity of some of the changes, its official title is not Hawaii Five-O (with an "O") but rather Hawaii Five-0 (with a "zero"). The original series' "Five-O" referred to Hawaii itself, the 50th state. In the new series, characters talk about "Five-O" in those terms but some genius in CBS's marketing division (presumably) settled on "Five-Zero" to distinguish it from the original show on Internet search engines. At least that's what's been reported. I suspect there may be another reason having to do with rights issues and royalty payments in relation to the original series, but that's just a theory.
Regardless, Hawaii Five-0 - The First Season is an extremely handsome Blu-ray set. In addition to the super-sharp high-def image and pounding 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, the set is crammed with tons of HD special features (that also include high-def excerpts from the original series) and features singularly creative and easy-to-navigate menu screens.*
Attempts to get the series back on the air began not long after it was cancelled. During the run of Magnum, P.I., also filmed in Hawaii, there were unsuccessful attempts to get coax Jack Lord out of retirement to make a guest appearance as Steve McGarrett. Later, Hawaii Five-O seemed destined for theaters as a big budget movie. In 1996 writer-producer Stephen J. Cannell filmed a same-named pilot episode for a proposed new series that would have starred Gary Busey. That pilot featured the original cast save star Jack Lord, who by this time was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. But James MacArthur was brought back to play Danny "Danno" Williams, Zulu appeared as Kono, and Kam Fong returned as Det. Chin Ho Kelly. Chin Ho's reappearance in the pilot surprised everyone, including actor Kam Fong. Cannell hadn't realized that Fong's character had been killed off at the end of season 10. Fong kept his mouth shut.
The pilot didn't sell, but CBS pressed on. It was, after all, a pre-sold concept and the network's outright ownership of the franchise meant that even a moderately successful series could be hugely profitable. Although star Alex O'Loughlin's character was originally conceived as literally the son of Jack Lord's Steve McGarrett, that idea was abandoned and the result was an entirely new show, "version 2.0" as some have put it.
In the new series Steve McGarrett returns to his native Hawaii after the kidnapping and murder of his father, an iconic cop. The former Navy SEAL is recruited by Governor Jameson (Jean Smart, her character a nod to Richard Denning's character from the original series) to establish a special task force and rid the island of its encroaching criminal element. Much too casually McGarrett recruits the rest of his team.
Danny Williams (Scott Caan, son of actor James) is a haole ("outsider"), a Newark, New Jersey cop transferred to Hawaii to be close to his young daughter, Grace, and retain visitation rights while battling ex-wife Rachel.
Chin Ho Kelly (Lost's Daniel Dae Kim) is a disgraced HPD cop falsely accused of corruption. Though persona non grata with the force, McGarrett's father stood by him, and that's good enough for Steve. Former professional surfer Kono Kalakaua (Battlestar Galactica's Grace Park) is an HPD student - she graduates in the second episode - and also Chin Ho Kelly's cousin. Though playing Chinese-American and Hawaiian native characters, both actors are Korean-American. It's a shame they couldn't have found room for a native Hawaiian actor among the leads.
Some have argued that Hawaii Five-O (as opposed to Hawaii Five-0) was a product of its era, and that trying to rework it into present-day Hawaii is a mistake. I disagree. While the Hawaii of 2011 bears little resemblance to the Hawaii of 1968-80 - in the same way Las Vegas morphs into something completely new almost monthly - the very transformative qualities of Hawaii, good and bad, could intelligently be incorporated into scripts.
Like the original series, the travelogue aspect of the show, with the islands' natural beauty and exoticness on display here in high-definition, is a big draw. Just as watching HD episodes of Lewis made me want to visit Oxford, England, Hawaii Five-0 is similarly enticing. (Hawaiian Airlines is a major sponsor of the show, their logo overtly product-placed in the opening titles.)
But as reboots go, Hawaii Five-0 misses the mark by wide margin. Hand-in-hand with the original series' groundbreaking decision to film the entire show on location in Hawaii and not at all in Hollywood, was the careful characterization of Steve McGarrett, as well as the working relationship and pecking order at Five-O, all of which was anchored by Jack Lord's mesmerizing performance.
That show was all about chain of command, of Five-O's team looking up to McGarrett and aspiring to win his approval. Danny Williams was clearly a disciple, a young officer being groomed to eventually replace him. McGarrett himself was hard as nails, enigmatic, cynical, intelligent, aloof - but first and foremost a leader of men. It was also a show about law and order, but unlike producer-director-actor Jack Webb's cop shows of the period, Hawaii Five-O never seemed out of step with the times. Indeed, in its early seasons it was in fact quite innovative.
The new Hawaii Five-0 runs counter to most of these points. Where Lord's McGarrett was always bound by moral codes that sometimes meant that the bad guys went free, O'Loughlin's McGarrett is cut from the same cloth as 24's Jack Bauer. He casually tortures suspects, jamming his thumb into their open wounds and dangling them from tall buildings by their ankles. Where Lord's McGarrett had to play by the rules, Smart's Governor Jameson pretty much gives O'Loughlin's McGarrett carte blanche, promising to cover for him when he crosses legal thresholds.
Conversely, there's a gratingly flip attitude (common, alas, to many crime shows these days) that actually undermines its effectiveness and believability. Five-Zero's action set pieces are extremely slick, looking like something out of an expensive movie, but the endless, supposedly witty banter from the principals, their unrealistic lack of purpose and organization, the absence of any sense of real danger or fear on their part, all contribute to its featherweight air. As cop shows go, this one's as nutritious as a Hawaiian pancake. 24 was equally ludicrous (and morally repellent) but much more compelling because of its consistently tense, serious tone. Lord's McGarrett on the original series was rarely anything other than grimly determined. That the writers insist on portraying the foursome as one big, happy family who hangout together after hours watching football and drinking Longboards when they're not working further undermines things.
Indeed, McGarrett's recruitment of the others is so casual and unstudied as to be almost criminally stupid. (A disgraced cop, an ex-surfer/rookie, and a haole with familiy problems? Why not put them in charge of a multi-million-dollar special task force?) Danny is more or less McGarrett's same-aged equal. O'Loughlin and Caan are 35, where Lord and MacArthur were 48 and 31 at the start of their Five-O. It's as if the networks are terrified of casting leading roles on shows these days to anyone over the age of 35.
Part of the appeal of the original Chin Ho and Kono was that the former was a veteran cop who knew the streets like the back of his hand (and who for that reason McGarrett respected), while the latter was a hipster local obviously uncomfortable but willing to follow McGarrett's strict code of conduct. The new Chin Ho and Kono have less to do, and making the former a wrongly-disgraced cop puts the Five-0 team constantly at odds with other law enforcement agencies, the reverse of the original series, where McGarrett worked in tandem with the police and branches of the FBI and CIA, those other agencies at his easy disposal.
Video & Audio
Picture postcard is the operative term for Hawaii Five-0 - The First Season. The primary colors - the deep blues of the ocean and sky, the rich greens of the mountains - are visually quite spectacular, and the audio, including newly-recorded theme music with more or less the same arrangement as the original (after an "updated" synthesized one was leaked to YouTube and was heavily criticized) also come off as robust. The six-disc set has all 24 hour-slotted, first season episodes. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio in English only is supported by English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Finnish, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian subtitles.
I'm generally not a fan of self-reflexive, uncritical featurettes promoting currently airing TV shows, but the supplements in this case (all in HD) are way above average. Self-explanatory featurettes include "Shore Lines: The Story of Season 1," "Grace Park's Hawaiian Tour," "Legacy" (comparing both series), "Picture Perfect: The Making of the Pilot," "Re-scoring the Theme Song" [sic], "Inside Comic-Con," and "Inside the Box" (referring to a toolbox figuring prominently in the season's story arc). Also included are deleted scenes, a gag reel, CBS launch promos, and cast and crew audio commentaries on two episodes. Packaging includes an episode guide with airdates and locations of various special features, which are spread over all six discs.
Despite many criticisms I actually like certain aspects of the show, and clearly there's an attempt to draw from the best elements of the original series, though so far its characters and their relationships to one another is unimaginative and runs counter to the first Five-O. But what's good about the new show, plus the very high quality of this Blu-ray release bump it to mildly Recommended.
* This may be the first television release I've seen to omit the utterly pointless "Play All" option. Who'd want to watch four hours of the same TV show (per disc) without a break? Good riddance!
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Tora-san DVD boxed set, is on sale now.